Tennessee Says May 3, 2023, is the Deadline to Get a REAL ID - In Order to Fly (Without a Passport)

Mark Hake

The Tennessee REAL ID website says that May 3, 2023, is the deadline to get a REAL ID driver's license:

"Beginning May 3, 2023, all persons must have a REAL ID license for accessing certain Federal buildings, entering nuclear facilities, and boarding commercial flights within the United States."

The truth is that you can still fly then, but you will have to show your passport, a passport card, or a Dept. of Defense ID (and some other IDs acceptable to the Dept. of Homeland Security). Interestingly the Tennessee site does not say this.

But who wants that hassle?

The Tennessee REAL ID driver's license looks like this:

It has a gold circle with a star in the middle located in the upper right-hand corner of the license. The gold circle star signifies that this is a REAL ID license and can be used at an airport starting May 3, 2023, to get on a plane. Otherwise, you will need to bring a passport (see above).

The Dept. of Homeland Security says this exactly, in their FAQ site on REAL IDs:

" Beginning May 3, 2023 every state and territory resident will need to present a REAL ID compliant license/ID, or another acceptable form of identification, for accessing federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding commercial aircraft."
"The card, itself, must be REAL ID compliant unless the resident is using an alternative acceptable document such as a passport or passport card, or state-issued Enhanced Driver’s License.
The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents (such as a U.S. passport or passport card)."

This shows that this requirement is being taken seriously by the government.

How To Get a Tennessee REAL ID Driver's License

Tennessee began issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses starting July 1, 2019. So, if you have not had your license renewed in Tennessee in the past 3 and a half years, you might not have the gold circle star on your license.

So, check your TN Driver's License to see if there is a gold circle star in the upper right-hand corner. If not you will have to schedule an appointment and bring documents to the Tennessee Driver Services Division (DSD) of the TN Dept. of Safety and Homeland Safety.

The TN DSD has a site that shows a list of the required documents. In a nutshell, it boils down to this:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal presence 
  • Proof of your full Social Security Number
  • Two proofs of Tennessee residency

In each of these categories, there are a number of documents that can be brought. Tennessee has an online brochure listing all of these potential documents.

For example, here is a list of documents just to prove your U.S. citizenship, and your legal name:

And here are all the documents you can bring to prove your Social Security number:

Lastly you have to bring 2 copies of any of these documents to prove residency in Tennessee:

This is a pretty exhausting list. But, for most people, here is all you need to bring:

  • a passport
  • your Social Security card or a pay stub with your SSN
  • two utility bills (water, electricity, gas, etc.) showing your address, or even just your driver's license and one utility bill.

Bottom Line - Don't Procrastinate - Don't Wait

You can't do this online. It has to be done in person. It will also cost the same as a renewal license.

There are likely to be long lines starting next January, and especially in the spring, just to get this done.

The deadline is May 3, 2023, but it could take weeks to get an appointment or even for the license to be issued if the Tennessee Driver Services Division starts to have a backup situation.

So you might not want to wait to get this done.


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Mark R. Hake, CFA, writes articles on national and local news, stocks, and market events at InvestorPlace.com, Barchart.com, Medium.com, and Newsbreak.com as well as TalkMarkets.

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Mark Hake is a financial analyst, investor, and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). He writes about US and foreign stocks as well as cryptos, hedge funds, and private equity. He previously ran his own hedge fund, investment research firm, and acted as CFO for a fintech startup. He focuses on finding value, arbitrage, and hidden asset opportunities.

Phoenix, AZ

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